Bringing the action to West Cork: Green light to open new film studios in Skibbereen

Aisling Meath hears about exciting plans to make Skibbereen the new Hollywood, with a furniture factory set to be transformed into a state-of-the-art film production studio.
Bringing the action to West Cork: Green light to open new film studios in Skibbereen

Jim O’Donnell and his son Aodh: There will be two large ‘stages’ within the factory, which will be soundproofed and available for the requirements of individual productions.

IT’S ‘lights, camera, action’ in Skibbereen, as plans to open the new West Cork Film Studios receive the green light.

Planning permission has been granted to O’Donnell’s furniture factory to transform part of its existing premises into a state-of-the-art film production studio.

Some 20,000sq ft (1,860sq m) of the existing 65,000sq ft premises is to be converted into a centre of excellence for film production.

The factory will also be able to supplement the studios with props and sets on site if needed.

“Between Brexit, the recession, and Covid, the factory was not utilising the full potential of the space we have on site, so this was a perfect solution,” said Aodh O’Donnell, managing director of the factory.

The business has been supplying world-class furniture to the high-end hotel market in Ireland and the UK, and will continue to do so.

“We look forward to giving opportunities to many within the local community, and for the many talented local people who work in the film industry it means that they won’t have to travel as far for work.

“We are hoping that having the studios here will also mean a healthy spin-off to the local economy in terms of hospitality, tourism, shops etc,” he added.

West Cork draw for producers 

From War of the Buttons to The Wind that Shakes the Barley and the recently filmed Graham Norton series Holding for ITV, the stunning landscape of the area is a proven draw for film and TV producers. The availability of many local talented and experienced filmmakers living in the area makes Skibbereen the perfect location for a dedicated permanent film studios.

Aodh also acted as a marine consultant on Holding due to his considerable knowledge of all things maritime. He volunteers as part of the West Cork underwater search and rescue team and the Union Hall Lifeboat volunteers.

There will be two large areas, or ‘stages’, within the factory, which will be soundproofed and available for the requirements of individual productions.

Activities such as the building of a permanent interior set for the duration of a production will now be possible, which will be a huge plus to filmmakers, explained Aodh.

“If the film shoot is finished for the day, it means that the production can just down tools and leave the set, ready to start fresh again the following day, without having to move everything from location to location,” he said.

Studios of this nature are very advantageous to film and TV productions as it means they are not dealing with the inconsistencies of the weather or traffic noises, as these types of interruptions are very time- consuming — and therefore costly to the production budget.

A sustainable studio

The O’Donnell family are also keenly focused on making the studio environmentally friendly.

“We aim to have it as the first green sustainable studios in Ireland,” Jim O’Donnell, Aodh’s father and owner of the factory, told The Echo.

“We will be covering the roof in solar panels and transforming the sawdust waste from the factory into biomass, and we will be constantly updating our practices and looking at ways to make it more sustainable and eco-friendly in all that we do.”

Due to the combined efforts of the innovative O’Donnell family and other local people who work in the film industry — such as Martin Goulding, art director on Holding; Stan Nagle; Stephen Park; and Diarmuid Wolfe — West Cork is set to get a major boost from this initiative.

Small- to medium-sized productions will now be able to base themselves at the edge of the bustling market town for all their production needs.

Recently published figures from Screen Ireland revealed that there was a record-breaking spend of €500m in the Irish economy across film, television, drama, documentary, and animation production in Ireland last year. This spend represents the highest achieved and is a 40% increase on the previous record set in 2019.

The recent filming of Holding in West Cork was very beneficial to local businesses, with an estimated spend of €750,000 during filming.

Inspiration for the project 

The inspiration behind the studio project was Aodh’s sister, West Cork-based artist Édaín O’Donnell. She is vastly experienced, having worked in the art department of many high-end film and TV productions in Ireland and the U.S, including painting the helicopter pad for Mission Impossible.

The inspiration behind the studio project was Aodh’s sister, West Cork-based artist Édaín O’Donnell.
The inspiration behind the studio project was Aodh’s sister, West Cork-based artist Édaín O’Donnell.

Over the years her work has earned the respect of many notable people. including Paul Lavery, the filmmaker and writer who wrote The Wind that shakes The Barley and who also frequently collaborates with well-known director Ken Loach.

Lavery was effusive in his enthusiasm for the studios and his praise for Édaín.

“We were knocked out by the landscape, the people, and possibilities of Cork when we made The Wind That shakes the Barley. It is terrific news for filmmakers to see West Cork Film Studios come to the fore,” Lavery said.

“I have known... Édaín O’ Donnell for many years and her contribution on The Wind That Shakes The Barley and Jimmy’s Hall was invaluable. In the latter, she was a key member of our art department but her good taste and judgement spread to other areas of film-making. It bodes well for the studio and West Cork to have someone of this calibre, experience, and energy on board.” he said.

“We are beyond excited about this project” Édaín said. “The nearest film studios are Troy studios in Limerick and, with having a studio based here, I am also hoping that it will give hands-on training opportunities for young people in the area to gain experience and learn about all aspects of film-making.”

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